Alaska Sea Grant in the News

Electronic nose, new seafood products, whale research, advisory agents receive funding

Alaska Sea Grant to spend $2.1 million on marine and fisheries research, education, outreach and extension over two years

Date: 7/14/2004
Contact: Dr. Brian Allee, Director, Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 907-474-7949, Or contact Dr. Susan Sugai, Associate Director, Alaska Sea Grant College Program, 907-474-6840,
NR: SG-2004/NR214

Related Web sites
Alaska Sea Grant 2004–2006 Project Directory

FAIRBANKS, Alaska—The best way to tell how fresh the seafood that you're about to buy from your local fishmonger is, is to give it a sniff. If it smells, well, fishy, then it's not fresh. It's low-tech, but it works.

The human nose has been the instrument of choice for consumers and even seafood inspectors for years. But after a few hours of smelling fish, crabs and other seafood, even the best inspector's nose can come up a bit short. Our olfactory organs are, after all, only human.

Technology may soon come to the rescue. In the near future the electronic nose—a technological marvel that will never catch a cold, become stuffy or sneeze—may replace the human nose. Unlike the human proboscis, the electronic nose will tirelessly, faithfully, effortlessly sniff out bad seafood.

"Human sensory analysis is still a widely used traditional method of evaluating seafood quality," said Alexandra Oliveira, a researcher at the UAF Fishery Industrial Technology Center (FITC) in Kodiak, Alaska. "The electronic nose is a technology that is fairly new to the seafood industry. We are trying to bring this sophisticated tool directly to the processing plant."

Oliveira and FITC colleagues Chuck Crapo and Brian Himelbloom, together with master's degree student Jiraporn Chantarachoti, will test two electronic noses to see how they might be used to boost seafood quality in Alaska's processing plants. The research project is among nine new projects, as well as UAF Marine Advisory Program activities, graduate student support and outreach efforts being funded by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program over the next two years to better understand and use Alaska's marine resources.

The portable devices are similar in some respects to breathalyzer machines used by police to detect alcohol on the breath of a suspected drunk driver. Initially the devices will be used to detect ethanol, a type of alcohol associated with spoiled canned salmon. Later, the devices also will be used to test for other chemicals associated with spoilage and to evaluate the freshness of salmon being delivered by fishermen to the processing plant.

"This technology will help processors cut costs because it will help them improve their ability to discriminate between a bad and a good product in real time," said Oliveira. "There's potential for these devices to be used at several points in the processing line: at the front end to make sure raw product is fresh, and at the end of the processing line to ensure the quality of the finished product."

Helping Alaska produce the highest quality seafood is one of several important areas Alaska Sea Grant will be involved in. During the next two years, Alaska Sea Grant will work with university researchers, communicators and educators, as well as agents and specialists with the UAF Marine Advisory Program, to:

  • Use abundant but underutilized stocks of arrowtooth flounder to develop and test new protein-enriched coatings for salmon fillets.

  • Study entanglement of humpback whales in commercial fishing gear in Southeast Alaska.

  • Research effects of salmon interbreeding to learn how inbred salmon may become less fit to survive in the wild.

  • Test a new multispecies fisheries stock assessment model that incorporates ecosystem information. The model holds promise for improving fisheries management and protecting the ecosystem.

  • Study the nearshore sea ice–dependent food web near Barrow, Alaska. Understanding the role sea ice plays in the Arctic food web will help scientists predict the impacts of climate change in the region.

  • Study the genetic causes of paralytic shellfish poison. PSP outbreaks threaten subsistence shellfish harvesters and a growing commercial shellfish aquaculture industry.

  • Collect traditional ecological knowledge of whitefish species in the Yukon River Delta. Whitefish are an important but little-understood subsistence resource in Alaska. This project will enhance scientific understanding of whitefish and improve fisheries management.

  • Support a host of Marine Advisory Program activities, including two new agents based in Petersburg and Cordova. Funding for these new positions came from a National Sea Grant initiative. The positions will work with community residents on marine mammal issues, business development, science education, marine safety and other community-defined issues.

  • Sponsor the Alaska Region National Ocean Sciences Bowl that brings dozens of Alaska high school students together each March to test their knowledge of Alaska's marine environment.

  • Produce an array of books, videos and other public information materials aimed at enhancing our understanding of the marine environment.

  • Coordinate and sponsor statewide, national and international scientific gatherings including hosting the Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Science Symposium, now in its 23rd year.

Sea Grant funding comes primarily from a federal appropriation and state matching grants, as well as from special funding initiatives though the National Sea Grant Program.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a marine research, education and outreach service headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Alaska Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.

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